When my kids were preschoolers, we got through their anxieties with a very hands on approach. We made worry boxes, we crafted bird nests out of blankets and sheets, we sang songs sweetly in the night. Now that they are older, I'm finding their anxious feelings come out in more subtle ways and my old-fashioned methods just won't do. No one is that quick to discuss what's going on, and the differences in personality now are great. One kid will obsess; the other will hibernate. One blows up to blow off steam; the other shuts down or can't stop joking.
I've had to go back to the drawing board. Here's my new back-to-school list of mom-can-do when my kids are showing signs of coming apart at the seams:
Stay Positive. Madeleine repeatedly tells me that my warnings deepen her anxiety. She already can feel the consequences of making the misstep, she does not need me to remind her how much worse things will get if she doesn't get with the program. When I can honestly give her a picture of how good it will be because I know she can course correct, she is much more positive. If I can focus on the strengths she already possesses to address the problem, even better.
Be in it Together. Anxiety deepens when kids feel like they have to do everything on their own. It helps when I say to Carter, "Don't worry, I'll stick with you until I know you can do this on your own." This is especially calming when kids are overwhelmed by the size of the task or the scope of a new responsibility they are trying to master. You can give your kids the full weight of their responsibility without disconnecting from them emotionally. "WE" words really help.
Set Judgment Aside. Do you remember that anxious feeling you used to get as a kid when you knew you had done something wrong, and it was just a matter of time before someone found out? We increase our kids' anxiety when we pile on judgment or make it personal when we can be dispassionate about it and stick to the facts about what happened and how. They already know there's a problem; they don't need to feel like who they are is a problem as well.
Switch it up. I'm learning to break up anxious moments by changing gears and suggesting a new activity we can do together. Right now I've been asking Madeleine to go for an evening walk so we can go to the store and get her favorite Japanese crackers for the next day's lunch. Just being together, joking around is helping her relax and be less intense about her adjustment to middle school. I do the same thing after we've had a big discussion about something where tensions were high. We all need reminders that it's not the end of the world if there are challenges, and we can still enjoy each other's company in the midst of our worries.
How do you light up worry at your house? What's on your list of things you can do when your kids are clearly anxious or stressed?